If you record sounds from your synthesizer into a DAW then aren't you just recording the audio? Wouldn't it be better to record midi information so that you can then fix any mistakes when you record. And if that's the case, are synthesizers ever used in music production or is it pretty much all usb based keyboard midi controllers?

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    MIDI cotrollers don't produce sounds per se themselves. They produce the propensity to let any sound chosen to make that sound - starting whenever, lasting for as long as told, decaying as instructed, etc. So the synth becomes whatever instrument is chosen for MIDI to command. or have I missed something?
    – Tim
    Oct 20, 2019 at 17:54
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    Your question seems to imply that you think that you can't send MIDI information to synthesizers? Oct 20, 2019 at 19:55
  • @topomorto basically the question stems from if I should get an m-audio midi controller vs roland juno synthesizer, as an example. if the plan is for music production then why get a synth if I won't record it's sounds. my impression is that people use keyboards to record midi not audio.
    – user34288
    Oct 20, 2019 at 22:07
  • @foreyez it's true that it's pointless to get a synth if you don't want it's inbuilt sounds. But if you get a synth whose sounds you do like, you can record them, and you can control them by MIDI just as you would a built-in software synth. The possible impediment to using a synth controlled by MIDI with a DAW is how to mix the sounds together, but you can control a hardware synth with MIDI just as you can control a software synth. Oct 20, 2019 at 22:45

3 Answers 3


You can produce music without a DAW, and synthesizers don't have to be played live by a human player. There's this thing called MIDI, introduced in 1982. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MIDI With MIDI, devices can send instructions like note-on/note-off to each other, effectively playing the other device. A device called sequencer can play a synthesizer by sending MIDI messages. How the sequencer gets its sequence can vary a lot. The sequence data can be recorded from a live performance or it can be "programmed" in various ways.

Back in the day, before the advent of integrated "digital audio workstations" that have MIDI sequencing and audio recording in the same package, sequencers were used for playing synthesizers, and the result was either re-played all the time until it was committed to multi-track tape, or sometimes in smaller productions up until a final mix straight to two-track. Analog or digital. If a multi-track was used, the MIDI sequencer and the tape were synchronized using an analog sync pulse recorded on one track, so the MIDI sequencer would play the synths in time with the rest of the production, as if it was a very accurate musician obeying all play/stop/ffd/rew commands. Before the synth parts were committed to tape, the MIDI data was editable in the sequencer.

The signal path in a no-DAW separate sequencer, synths and tape setup could have been for example:

tape (sync pulse) --> sync in --> sequencer --> MIDI OUT --> synth --> mixer --> tape

The sequencer does not have to be a computer program. There are stand-alone hardware sequencers that can sync to external sync pulse coming from tape.

Even today with DAWs, all the same logical components are there, so you can let a sequencer play external hardware synths via MIDI OUT together with the multitrack audio. And you can commit the synths' audio output to tape or "tape" when you feel like it.

In an external hardware synth setup the devices could be connected for example like this:

sequencer (inside the DAW) --> MIDI OUT --> synthesizer --> audio interface --> mixer (inside the DAW) --> tape (inside the DAW)

In a purely inside-the-box setup the devices are like this:

sequencer (inside the DAW) --> MIDI events (inside the DAW) --> synthesizer (inside the DAW) --> mixer (inside the DAW) --> tape (inside the DAW)

To answer your specific questions:

If you record sounds from your synthesizer into a DAW then aren't you just recording the audio?

Yes. But what is playing the synthesizer? You or a sequencer? If it's you, playing a MIDI keyboard, you could still record the MIDI data along with the audio. And you could mic your keyboard to record the mechanical noises, and you could record a video of your playing as well. Several tracks of different types of data recorded in one go at the same time.

Wouldn't it be better to record midi information so that you can then fix any mistakes when you record.

It might be better, depending on what you want. If you know there's no "we'll fix it later", you'll have to play better, and it will affect your performance. On the other hand, why record anything at all? You could just as well clickety-click all the correct MIDI events in the sequencer, or have the data generated by a computer.

And if that's the case, are synthesizers ever used in music production or is it pretty much all usb based keyboard midi controllers?

Synthesizers are used in music production. For example, I like the sound and feeling of Nord's Hammond emulations much more than anything available in the software plugin world, so I play my Hammond parts live, just like I play actual guitars if I want a genuine guitar sound.

  • that's a good point that I could record midi information in addition to the audio, I wasn't aware of that capability. maybe that way I could get some kind of notes for bass or pad along with the sound that I get from the synth.
    – user34288
    Oct 20, 2019 at 22:32
  • "all play/stop/ffd/rew"… only once we had SMPTE code capability, much later. Before that it was always "from the top" using FSK :\ Even by 84, most synths didn't yet have MIDI [I even had a prototype DX7 at one time without MIDI] & we didn't really get 'usable' MIDI sequencers until 85 - Notator/Pro 24 etc] CV/Gate was always a total PITA to use ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 21, 2019 at 7:33
  • @Tetsujin Thanks for the historical perspective. :) I wanted to describe a situation where basically all of a modern DAW's components and abilities are present, but as separate hardware components. I started doing sequencing more seriously with Cakewalk 2.0 for DOS, Roland MPU-401 and that sort of stuff, and I think by that time all of the sync facilities already existed. I'm not 100% sure but I think I used a Fostex multitrack tape machine that was able to follow commands and rewind when told to. At least that's the general idea and you could think that the same components are there in a DAW. Oct 21, 2019 at 8:19
  • I could chew the fat on this all day ;)) Basically my 'music career with synths' started around 1979/80, pre MIDI, pre-Linn drum… pre a lot of things, so I saw them all arrive one after the other until we had 'useable' sequencing by about 85, & during which time I had my Rhodes Chroma retro-fitted for MIDI - starting with Pro 24 on Atari [later to become Cubase] though even that relied on FSK initially. SMPTE required an extra hardware box which came later. From the release of the DX7 onwards, pretty much everything then came with MIDI.
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 21, 2019 at 8:30

If you record sounds from your synthesizer into a DAW then aren't you just recording the audio?


Wouldn't it be better to record midi information

Only if you can get exactly the sound you want from your MIDI chain.

are synthesizers ever used in music production

yes. Jean-Michel Jarre uses analog synthesizers to achieve effects that may be difficult to replicate in the digital realm. He even does this on tour, despite the problems of keeping a 30 year-old piece of analog electronics running reliably.


The other answers address the rest of your questions, but I just wanted to reply to

are synthesizers ever used in music production

by suggesting that you listen to the incredibly inventive work of Brian Eno.

You can start with his first solo album and just keep going chronologically, and he's also great in the short-lived supergroup "801" which yielded this classic album 801 Live

(After his art/prog rock beginnings with Roxy Music he also became a go-to producer, helping make albums with Bowie, Talking Heads, Devo and more. He's one of the most influential names in ambient music.)

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    Ironically, BBC Radio 2 just had a program last night about Giorgio Moroder, who they reckoned was the first person to do a fully-synth pop record. Although before that, anyone into synths should be looking at the work of Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram in the 60s, who were way ahead of Eno.
    – Graham
    Oct 21, 2019 at 7:58
  • @Graham - Thumbs up for Moroder - Son of my Father, Chicory Tip [though I'm not certain Popcorn wasn't before that, but we can ignore that for just being so irritating ;-)) & let's not forget I Feel Love, Donna Summer, though much later, 77 iirc Though you can't ignore Wendy Carlos's early influence either.
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 21, 2019 at 8:38

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